Saturday, December 4, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Closer--Bob Wickman (2000-2006)

Whenever I think of former closer Bob Wickman, three things immediately pop into my head:

1.  He severed his index finger down to his first knuckle when he was two in a farming accident.
2.  He has the most saves in Cleveland Indians history.
3.  I had to purchase a defibrillator to help jump start my heart after nearly every one of his outings.

During the best of days, Bob Wickman stabilized the Tribe bullpen, providing the Indians with a surefire, ninth-inning win.  During the worst of days, Wickman was an injury-prone emergency room filler, living on the edge during every appearance.  Through it all, Bob Wickman was the only closer that provided longevity and consistency throughout his run during the first decade.  The All-Aught Indians closer is the hefty righty, Bob Wickman.

It's almost hard to believe, but Wickman was first brought up as a starter for the New York Yankees way back in 1992.  Wickman isn't a typical power pitcher, throwing a decent fastball, sinker and slider.  What made him special was that half-finger of his.  According to Wickman, and every coach he pitched for, that half finger gave him natural movement.  When he was on, too much movement for any opposing batter.

The Yankees ultimately moved Wickman to the bullpen, where he was one of the main set-up man for closer John Wetteland.  The Yanks traded to the Brewers in 1996, where in his first game with the Crew, gave the Indians a glimpse of their future, blowing a save, but getting the win in a late August game.  The Tribe would trade for Wickman, Jason Bere and Steve Woodard in the 2000 Richie Sexson trade.  While the Indians needed starters, Woodard and Bere wouldn't make it for a complete season.  Wickman became a staple.

Wickman immediately was placed in the role as closer for Steve Karsay, and saved 14 of 17 games.  He went 1-3, with a 3.38 ERA in 26 appearances and 26 2/3 innings pitched.  He only struck out 11 batters however, while walking 12.  Let the roller coaster ride begin.

Wickman had one of his best seasons as the Tribe closer in 2001, saving 32 of 35 chances, while going 5-0 with a 2.39 ERA.  He made 70 appearances, and pitched in 67 2/3 innings, and was a true workhorse.  The Indians made a strange move in June, dealing the unhappy Steve Karsay to Atlanta for crazy closer John Rocker.  Rocker was immediately made the closer, and after starting off like a house of fire, imploded.  Re-enter Wickman, who continued his spectacular season.

As good as the 2001 season was, was as bad as the 2002 season turned into.  Wickman's elbow bothered him all season until he was shut down in August.  His season ended with Tommy John surgery.  Wickman's ERA lived above 4.00 for most of the season.  He still saved 20 games for the season.  Wickman would miss the entire 2003 season rehabbing his elbow.

2004 would start off much like the previous two seasons, on the DL, with a strained elbow.  He would return in early July as a set-up man, before entering as a closer after his fifth appearance, and fourth hold.  While he wasn't lights out, he did save five games in six days in early August.  Overall, he saved 13 of 14 games, and righted the bullpen a bit.  He finished the season strong, with three saves in his final four games, and no runs allowed.

2005 was Wickman's finest year as a closer, saving 45 games in 50 chances, which was tied for the AL lead.  Wickman went 0-4 with a 2.47 ERA.  For the first time in three years, Wickman pitched in over 60 innings, and would be chosen into the all-star game.

2006 was Wickman's final year with the Tribe, and he pitched like he was disinterested for much of the first half of the season.  He went 1 and 4, with a 4.18 ERA, saving 15 games in 29 appearances.  Wickman was traded in late July to the Atlanta Braves. He was light's for the Braves, saving 18 games with a 1.04 ERA, showing that when focused, he could be one of the top closers in baseball.

Wickman had a long run as the Indians closer, and while injury-issues were a problem in the middle of his Tribe career, those problems were bookended by outstanding seasons.  Sure, I now need a pacemaker because of the round mound of closers, but there is no doubt he was the best in Tribe-land during the first decade.

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